The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health introduced a bachelor’s/master’s program to four additional schools in Texas, including Rice University in Houston, the University of Houston, St. Mary’s University in San Antonio and The University of Texas at San Antonio.
The program allows students from partnering undergraduate institutions to earn a master’s degree in public health in as little as one year after completing their bachelor’s degree. Established 4+1 programs operate at UTHealth School of Public–Austin Campus in partnership with The University of Texas at Austin and at UTHealth School of Public Health–Brownsville Campus in partnership with The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
[Photo: Ms. Sanjana Puri (left) and Ms. Cristell Perez]
Less time, less money
By shortening the time it takes to earn an MPH, the bachelor’s/master’s program gives students more bang for their tuition buck and a head start should they want to pursue a career, another advanced degree, or a dual-degree program, such as an MD/MPH. Students in the program graduate from their undergraduate institution having earned up to 16 credits, which can be applied to an MPH.
“In higher education we have noticed a trend towards programs like the bachelor’s/master’s which are often referred to as 4+1 programs,” says Sam Neher, assistant director of student services in the School of Public Health’s Office of Academic Affairs and Student Services. “Like other institutions, we are finding ways to reduce the amount of time it takes to achieve a degree in order to save students time and money on tuition.”
Students interested in the 4+1 program typically apply at their undergraduate institution in their sophomore year and to the School of Public Health’s graduate certificate program in their junior year. In their senior year, students take the graduate certificate program’s five core courses in public health including biostatistics; environmental and occupational health sciences; epidemiology; health promotion and behavioral sciences; and management, policy, and community health. After graduating from their undergraduate institution, students spend an additional year at the School of Public Health completing their master’s degree.
“A natural partnership”
In the fall of 2015, the school rolled out the program at Rice University. Rice, with its location just a mile and a half away from the School of Public Health’s Texas Medical Center campus in Houston and its international reputation for academic excellence, is an ideal partner for the program, says Dr. Osama I. Mikhail, who was interim dean of the School of Public Health at the time the partnership was announced, and is senior vice president for strategic planning at UTHealth.
“This is a natural partnership between Rice and the School of Public Health,” he says. “Hopefully, it will grow and lead to other similar collaborative initiatives between the two institutions.”
Five Rice seniors, representing a diversity of academic fields including art history, biochemistry, business and women and gender studies, are taking part in the bachelor’s/master’s program this year.
“We are very happy about our pilot cohort, because it already accomplishes one of the key goals of this program: to bring students from a wide range of majors, from the humanities to the sciences, into public health,” says Dr. Kristen Ostherr, professor of english at Rice and an adjunct professor at the School of Public Health. Dr. Ostherr is an alumna of the School of Public Health and co-director of the Rice 4+1 program together with Dr. Nicholas Iammarino, a professor and chair of the department of kinesiology at Rice.
Iammarino says public health specialists with a master’s degree are highly valued. “You’ll see a lot more clinical professionals — physicians, dentists, even veterinarians — who say they’re interested in public health issues that affect the community, rather than just treating a patient. They’re prime candidates for this program.”
What students say
Ms. Sanjana Puri’s passion for policy and her desire to improve the health of women in developing countries led her to the 4+1 program. Ms. Puri, a health science major at Rice, moved from India to Dallas as a child, and her travels back to the country of her birth opened her eyes to the widespread sexual health problems confronting women there. Then, as an intern at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, she investigated how the political climate in post-Arab Spring Egypt hampered women’s access to reproductive health resources, a transformative experience that set her on the path to public health.
“I was already very interested in using policy as a tool to reduce barriers to health care and empower individuals with the skills, knowledge and access to resources that they might not have through policy,” says Ms. Puri, who is currently applying to medical schools. “So when I learned of the 4+1 program, I thought it would enable me to use both policy and public health to broaden the impact that I had as an individual and later on in my career.”
Ms. Puri’s colleague Cristell Perez, who is majoring in anthropology and the study of women, gender and sexuality, chose the 4+1 program to give her the public health skills necessary for a career in global health. Perez got her first taste of global public health practice while studying abroad in Ecuador, India, South Africa and Brazil, conducting ethnographic research and working on projects focusing on improving maternal and child health. She was hooked, and says she probably would have continued to stay abroad, if she had not learned of the 4+1 program from a friend’s Facebook post.
“With the 4 +1, I not only get to earn an MPH in less time than it would have normally taken me, but also, because I am on scholarship with Rice, my first year of the program is paid for, and that is very important for me,” says Perez, a native of a struggling Texas border town and the first in her family to go to college. “With my education taken care of, I will be able to learn, then travel the world and hopefully make an impact.”
This article was published in the spring issue of Pioneers magazine and includes information adapted from a press release from Rice University Media Relations. Read the full story in the magazine.